Semper Augustus 2015
Mixed Media on two wood panels, 30×20 cm each panel.
Semper Augustus is one of a series of small works based on the writings and images by Basil Valentine. Basil Valentine is the anglicised version of the name Basilius Valentinus, ostensibly a 15th-century alchemist, possibly Canon of the Benedictine Priory of Saint Peter in Erfurt, but more likely a pseudonym used by one or several 16th-century German authors and alchemists.
All the works in the series refer to alchemical processes and are in effect emblems. Emblems of what? Emblems of emblems. All the works are the same scale and the double panel format represents an open book page. Here the left hand panel shows a page from the “Vier Tractatlien” 1625, with the alchemical motto VITRIOL: Visitetis Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenietis Occultum Lapidem ; ‘Visit the interior of the earth and rectifying (i.e. purifying), you will find the hidden/secret stone’. This refers to the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, and the there are various references in the painting to the stages, levels and colours of the alchemical process; nigredo, a blackening or melanosis; albedo, a whitening or leucosis; citrinitas,a yellowing or zanthosis; rubedo, a reddening or iosis. These are also represented by the images and colours of the demons of the underworld. These demons are quoted from the 14th century frescoes of the Spanish Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, Florence by Andrea Di Bonaiuto (Andrea Di Firenze).
The tulip image is from a 17th century still-life painting by Johannes Goedaert, showing the ‘broken’ tulip Semper Augustus – those dwarf (diseased) tulips which were at the centre of the17th century Dutch tulip mania. In 1637, a single Semper Augustus bulb sold for more than ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsworker. This image appears on the cover of ‘The Art of Arts’, Rediscovering Painting by Anita Albus, University of California Press Ltd., 2001, – a book which has been a major influence on the technical aspects of my painting.
There is also a Scottish connection. The 1637 event was popularised in 1841 by the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay, which also has a chapter debunking alchemy and alchemists.
Several years ago, I undertook some research into traditional and largely lost painting methods and materials. In this I was inspired by ‘The Art of Arts’, Rediscovering Painting by Anita Albus, University of California Press Ltd., 2001. In this book, among many other things, Anita Albus describes the ‘lost colours”, and the chemical make up and crystalline form of those pigments. Pigments such as Orpiment, Realgar, Cinnabar, Malachite and Lapis Lazuli, and including the highly poisonous Lead Tin Yellow and the mystical Dragon’s Blood-Powder. A very particular effect can be created by applying layers of thin colour made from these pigments, over a monochrome underpainting or an imprinted decal, and using an amber based varnish. As my subject matter- symbols, science and alchemy – involves a layering of imagery, this seemed an appropriate matching of method and meaning. Also the links between the physicality of alchemical practice and that of the grinding of pigment did not escape me, as I worked my pestle and mortar.
All mixed media on wood 30 x 40 cm
NATURAL & SUPERNATURAL THINGS.
Of the first Tincture, Root, and Spirit of METALS and MINERALS, how the same are Conceived, Generated, Brought forth, Changed, and Augmented.